Pretentious navel-gazing without the humor of HBO’s Girls, which covers similar terrain.

HOW SHOULD A PERSON BE?

A NOVEL FROM LIFE

Toronto-based Heti (Ticknor, 2006, etc.) and her real-life friends, including Misha Glouberman with whom she wrote a previous book (Where the Chairs Are Where the People Go, 2011), are central characters in this meandering novel that attempts to erase the line between fact and fiction.

Sheila is a recently divorced playwright—the marriage ended at her request for no clearly spelled out reason—attempting to finish a commissioned play while working part time in a beauty salon where her boss Uri is a kind of guru preaching beauty in balance. She claims what she desires is a simple life of fame without having to change her life. She also talks quite a bit about her search for a sense of self. She spends time with her friend Margaux, an artist who lives with Misha and has entered an ugly painting contest with another painter friend of Heti’s named Sholem. Heti buys a digital tape recorder and the novel includes actual taped conversations with Margaux, to whom the novel is dedicated, as well as emails between the two. Margaux and Heti have a falling-out because Margaux feels Heti has invaded her private boundaries, both by taping her and, more egregiously, by buying the same yellow dress while they are at an art festival in Miami. Meanwhile, Sheila has met Israel, who works in a bakery. He considers himself a painter, but Sheila recognizes his real art lies in the sex department. She describes their sadomasochistic antics in explicit, though untitillating detail. For a while, Sheila and Margaux fall into a pattern of heavy partying and druggy debauchery until Margaux pulls away. Sheila worries she’s a narcissist, not without good reason perhaps. Claiming imperfect wanderer Moses rather than sinless Jesus as spiritual guide, she leaves Toronto for New York, but she’s no happier there. After a gambling jaunt to Atlantic City, she returns to Toronto in time for the conclusion of the ugly painting contest.

Pretentious navel-gazing without the humor of HBO’s Girls, which covers similar terrain.

Pub Date: June 19, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-8050-9472-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: June 17, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2012

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The best-selling author of tearjerkers like Angel Falls (2000) serves up yet another mountain of mush, topped off with...

SUMMER ISLAND

Talk-show queen takes tumble as millions jeer.

Nora Bridges is a wildly popular radio spokesperson for family-first virtues, but her loyal listeners don't know that she walked out on her husband and teenaged daughters years ago and didn't look back. Now that a former lover has sold racy pix of naked Nora and horny himself to a national tabloid, her estranged daughter Ruby, an unsuccessful stand-up comic in Los Angeles, has been approached to pen a tell-all. Greedy for the fat fee she's been promised, Ruby agrees and heads for the San Juan Islands, eager to get reacquainted with the mom she plans to betray. Once in the family homestead, nasty Ruby alternately sulks and glares at her mother, who is temporarily wheelchair-bound as a result of a post-scandal car crash. Uncaring, Ruby begins writing her side of the story when she's not strolling on the beach with former sweetheart Dean Sloan, the son of wealthy socialites who basically ignored him and his gay brother Eric. Eric, now dying of cancer and also in a wheelchair, has returned to the island. This dismal threesome catch up on old times, recalling their childhood idylls on the island. After Ruby's perfect big sister Caroline shows up, there's another round of heartfelt talk. Nora gradually reveals the truth about her unloving husband and her late father's alcoholism, which led her to seek the approval of others at the cost of her own peace of mind. And so on. Ruby is aghast to discover that she doesn't know everything after all, but Dean offers her subdued comfort. Happy endings await almost everyone—except for readers of this nobly preachy snifflefest.

The best-selling author of tearjerkers like Angel Falls (2000) serves up yet another mountain of mush, topped off with syrupy platitudes about life and love.

Pub Date: March 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-609-60737-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2001

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The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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A LITTLE LIFE

Four men who meet as college roommates move to New York and spend the next three decades gaining renown in their professions—as an architect, painter, actor and lawyer—and struggling with demons in their intertwined personal lives.

Yanagihara (The People in the Trees, 2013) takes the still-bold leap of writing about characters who don’t share her background; in addition to being male, JB is African-American, Malcolm has a black father and white mother, Willem is white, and “Jude’s race was undetermined”—deserted at birth, he was raised in a monastery and had an unspeakably traumatic childhood that’s revealed slowly over the course of the book. Two of them are gay, one straight and one bisexual. There isn’t a single significant female character, and for a long novel, there isn’t much plot. There aren’t even many markers of what’s happening in the outside world; Jude moves to a loft in SoHo as a young man, but we don’t see the neighborhood change from gritty artists’ enclave to glitzy tourist destination. What we get instead is an intensely interior look at the friends’ psyches and relationships, and it’s utterly enthralling. The four men think about work and creativity and success and failure; they cook for each other, compete with each other and jostle for each other’s affection. JB bases his entire artistic career on painting portraits of his friends, while Malcolm takes care of them by designing their apartments and houses. When Jude, as an adult, is adopted by his favorite Harvard law professor, his friends join him for Thanksgiving in Cambridge every year. And when Willem becomes a movie star, they all bask in his glow. Eventually, the tone darkens and the story narrows to focus on Jude as the pain of his past cuts deep into his carefully constructed life.  

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-53925-8

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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